Over the last couple of months I’ve had a bit of a break from blogging to refocus and think more about what I want to be putting into Zest and Herbs and what I also want to get out of it. Nice to get back to cooking a bit more simply and follow recipes from other blogs as well as from my many cookbooks in the meantime to let myself get inspired by what I tried and read. I’ve missed writing and had a few comments from family and friends who have missed reading the blog too, so I’m glad to be back. Since I’ve been following lots of recipes, I thought I’d review one of the books I’ve been cooking a lot from recently: Rosa’s Thai Café, by the café’s owner Saiphin Moore.
In my review of Dabbous, I was critical of the complex nature of the food which made it nigh impossible to recreate at home but the style of cooking means that’s not the case here. The book builds on the authors’ experiences of cooking around the world from childhood in northern Thailand, to Hong Kong before moving on to British Isles. Recipes have an authentic feel to them and the photography make the dishes look both appetising and accessible. Many of the recipes will also be familiar to anyone who eats out in Thai restaurants regularly, so you can know when you’ve made things taste as they should!
Recipes are well laid out, with ingredients to the side and very clear, simply written instructions make them really easy to follow — I’ve not found any ambiguity in the methods of any dishes I’ve prepared. None of the dishes are particularly complex provided you’ve got a wok and a pestle and mortar or food processor to hand so the book is great for all skill and confidence levels. Many of the dishes, particularly the stir-fries, are very quick to cook. With a little forward planning for the more specific ingredients and the odd shortcut of a bought curry paste, there are plenty of dishes that can be ready in under thirty minutes.
Recipes are sorted by their cooking method, with the exceptions of smaller starter-sized dishes and desserts and the beginning and end. There’s a good balance of types of dishes: the book isn’t dominated by the more familiar stir-fries and curries as one might expect from Thai cuisine. The stand-out recipes for me were the two salads I tried, pork with Chinese kale and the spicy beef salad. They were light meals but you certainly didn’t feel like you wanted too much more as can often be the case with such dishes, and both were quite different from one-another: the pork salad dressed with a fierce and sharp dressing coupled with fresh herbs, and the beef salad using a much richer one though still fiercely spicy. Dishes don’t skimp on the chillies, especially when the word ‘spicy’ is in the title of the recipe, so be cautious if you aren’t quite as heat-tolerant as I am! However, vegetarian recipes are few and far between (even disregarding using a veggie substitute for the ubiquitous fish sauce) which is a bit of a disappointment when I know from previous experience how many delicious vegetable dishes exist in Asian cuisines. Of course, substitutions and omissions can be made but a nudge in the right direction would be helpful, like suggestions of vegetables to use in place of the meat in some dishes.
Unfortunately, Rosa’s Thai Café also suffers the same problem as many other books on South-East Asian cuisines — poor access to ingredients. Despite the growing popularity for food from this part of the world (the current series of Masterchef had plenty of Thai curries and Malay laksas on offer in the opening rounds), it’s still tricky to get hold of many of the ingredients in supermarkets and outside of major cities. Unlike Chinese or Korean cooking which feature dried or preserved vegetables and spices, more tropical cuisines like Thai and Vietnamese rely on fresh ingredients with short shelf lives that can be prohibitively expensive to order online for occasional use. While some are readily available in supermarkets, like coriander, ginger and chillies, some are more hit and miss like Thai basil, lemongrass and galangal, while for others you’ll have to go somewhere more specialist (though I’ve never managed to come across lesser galangal or fresh pandan leaves). I’ve had to employ plenty of substitutions in trying things out, which can be off-putting if you aren’t all that familiar with the cuisine.
If you’re looking for a good, all-rounder of a Thai cookbook then I can definitely recommend Rosa’s Thai Café — it’s full of crowd-pleasing dishes that are simple to put together, and plenty of familiar restaurant dishes. As someone that’s confident in the kitchen but without much experience of cooking Thai food at home, it definitely hits the mark as a solid introduction. If you’ve got a bit more experience of South-East Asian cookery than I do and are looking to go exploring a little deeper into the food of Thailand then you might find it all a bit familiar.